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terry 11-16-2012 01:31 AM

A Month of Backstroke Excellence
Lake Minnewaska closed for the season on Sept 3. I swam twice more there, the final time a month ago - Oct 15 - with water temp at 50F. Since then I've mostly swum in the Endless Pool at home. I"m enjoying that and feel I"m getting great value from it.
But I'm planning to enter a Masters meet at Ithaca College Dec 8 so I'd better get in a few practices in a pool where I have to do turns. Yesterday I swam in the SUNY-New Paltz pool for the first time since May

I've decided to do a month of focus on each of the 'non-free' strokes Now through Christmas will be my Month of Backstroke Excellence. I always strive to find a sense of purpose. I can get that by doing a baseline set, then spend the next month working to see by how much I can improve the metrics.
Here is yesterday's practice, my first of the fall
Wed Nov 14 - 2000 SCY at SUNY
500 FR/BK x 50s. Felt great. Held 13SPL for FR and 15 for BK.
500 FR - Decided to swim relaxed, stay entirely wiithin comfort zone, both form/control and effot. Held 14SPL for 250 then 15SPL. Time was 7:20. That will become a baseline too.
Repeated 500 FR/BK. This time 50BK25FR until done. Allowed SPL to go +1 No time. Just focus.
BK Baseline Set 50+100+200 BK. Held 15-16SPL
Times :51-1:41-3:30.
Nice set. SPL remained constant, but pace stayed reasonably constant as repeat got longer.
I'll repeat that set just before Christmas and see how much I can improve on it.

terry 11-16-2012 02:47 PM

Curiosity has replaced Ego and Self-Judgement
I have a good friend (and rival in my age group and favorite events) with whom I correspond regularly. Lately the theme of our correspondence revolves around his struggles to stay motivated and interested in training and meets. He attended a meet last weekend in hopes it would stoke his interest for workouts, but was somewhat disappointed that it didn't. Though he was at least philosophical about swimming times he might once have judged disappointing.

Something we must all deal with eventually is how to put a positive spin on times that inevitably slow with age. I sent him the practice summary from the post above and he appreciated that. Our kinship-in-swimming seems stronger when each of is actively training, reminding each of us of the prospect of our next race. He keeps me honest and I hope I do the same for him.

This morning I sent him these thoughts about why I enjoy swimming more than ever after 47 years.

>>After doing traditional workouts for 40-odd years I can't muster up the motivation to do them any more. Last time I tried to swim with a Masters group -- at Asphalt Green a year ago -- I lasted less than 200 yds. During the warmup set, which alternated 25 drill- 25 swim, there were 5 in the lane; I went last. Everyone was just rushing heedlessly through it -- get it done, so they could get to the next set and get that done etc. . . . I moved into an adjacent lane and spent a delightful hour working on some tasks that felt interesting and personal.

I'm able to find something interesting and meaningful to work on in every set. Some objectives are mainly sensory/subjective. On the two 500s FR/BK (the practice above) I was counting strokes, but using only 10% of my attention for that. 90% was focused on fairly subtle sensations that evaluate how well I was working with, not against.

On the 500 FR and 50+100+200 BK the mix of sensory and empirical was more like 60/40. Whatever numbers come up -- SPL, time, etc.-- I view solely as data points. I'm satisfied--occasionally delighted--when they're good. I'm more curious than disappointed when they're not as good. My attitude is that any set, or any time, has a code that's crackable. That keeps it fun.

The best thing about the upcoming meet is having finally gotten to a place where the burdens of ego and self-judging are fairly light. I have little concern with how other people may view what are likely to be 'slow' times, or how I may compare to others. I won't even think of my times as slow -- they're just empirical measures of how fast I'm able to swim that day.

I AM curious to learn at what pace I can swim familiar events on very little volume/effort prep. I surprised myself last summer, but that was OW. Pool swimming is different. But how different?

I also look forward to testing my ability to swim an 'elegant' race -- both form and pacing.

AWP 11-16-2012 07:22 PM

Thanks again Terry for another inspiring approach towards fulfillment oriented 'goals' in our swimming and sharing your own experience!

I just might have to 'join' you on this particular focus as I too look to improve all aspects of my swimming including my thought processes/ intentions/ goals and how that can ultimately enhance my life experience.

I'll try and share my "curiousities" and encourage others to try and do the same. I can envision a massively interesting, informative and comforting 'thread' emerging from such personal discussion (as many threads here already do).


terry 11-16-2012 07:54 PM

If you're part of this experiment it will be more thoughtful and more interesting.
I swam at SUNY again today, doing just 2000y like Wed. I will strive to avoid pushing for any increase - in distance, effort or pace - in my month of Backstroke Excellence. Rather I want to feel as if I'm pulled to any gains.

As I was starting today a friend of mine -- a professor at the college in his 60s -- stopped me for a brief chat. He's been swimming with the Masters at the college for the past year or so, after swimming on his own at lunchtime for 10 years or so. He can swim some pretty strong paces -- as fast or faster as anything I do up to about 200y. I haven't converted him from old-school methods like pull and kick sets, but he does seem intrigued by how I swim -- both strokewise and approach to practice.

He told me that Masters is killing his interest and enjoyment. He said it feels rote and purposeless -- and generally unpleasant physically too. So I related my conversation with my other friend.
Here are today's sets
500 [25FR/25BK] I held 13/15SPL and focused on making my catch feel as deft and firm in BK as FR, and feet streamlined in both.

5 x 50 BK on 1:00. I descended times from :54 to :49 at constant 15SPL
Rest 1:00
Descend 5 x 50BK on 1:10 :52 to :48 at constant 15SPL.
Rest 1:00
4 x 250 FR on 4:00 -- 200 descend + 50 recovery.
Rest 1:00
I descended the 200s from 2:53 to 2:47 while maintaining 14SPL and bilateral breathing. I was aiming to feel 'strong', but not hard, at all times and speeds to feel I was working with, not against.
I did this set (during my month of Backstroke Excellence) because I'll swim 1000 FR at a Masters meet at Ithaca College Dec 8.

This was encouraging progress from Wed's practice.

Richardsk 11-16-2012 10:01 PM

On a smaller scale, I too am working on Freestyle and Backstroke excellence. I swim in public sessions in a small pool with only four lanes, when they have lanes, which is only three days a week, but sometimes at weekends they have a single lane for those of us who like to swim up and down or to and fro.

Since I am older and slower than everybody else, I have to fit my repeats in between the repeats of the faster swimmers so I usually find I can't do anything longer than 50m without getting in their way. But I find that this is still useful as I can swim at a somewhat faster pace than if I were able to swim 100s or 200s.

Today I produced a practice PB for 32x25m, which was very gratifying and encouraging.

Sometimes at the end of the session a lane becomes vacant and I can do backstroke repeats. I have been doing 100m repeats at a slow pace, paying due attention to the things one is supposed to pay attention to, including the kick, which is very poor, but I think these slow repeats with attention to kicking, including dolphins off the wall, are probably better than
kick sets. It also gives me a chance to practice turns (open turns still, but one day I may decide to try doing flips).

I feel that my practice PB today was due to this approach.Tomorrow may be completely different of course.

terry 11-16-2012 10:17 PM

I occasionally do a dolphin off the wall in backstroke, usually just one. But my dolphin, despite diligent work at times, has never been more than passable. So 95% of the time I just hold a balanced streamlined (no kicking) glide letting momentum and buoyancy carry me to the surface, and do a brisk, tight flutter just as I begin the stroke that will break me through the surface. My face comes to the surface at 6+ yards I'd say -- so I'm covering 3 body lengths fairly fast and with minimal effort. I'll take that.

If anyone cares to try it, please let us know how you go.

Richardsk 11-16-2012 10:34 PM


Since my dolphin is certainly weaker and less effective than yours, should I just forget about trying to dolphin off the wall in backstroke? I usually surface just outside the flags without dolphins. I suppose I could do some underwater inverted breaststroke kicks, which would probably be more effective than dolphins. I'll experiment with this tomorrow if there is a suitable space available.

terry 11-17-2012 10:15 AM

I've forsworn the dolphin because mine creates more drag than propulsion at too much energy cost. Very poor energy expenditure. This is proof we should be selective about how we choose to emulate physical geniuses like Phelps and Lochte.
In contrast, balanced streamlining is a skill with high payoff, minimal energy cost (I never forget the propensity of humans to waste energy in swimming) which anyone can learn. It also puts you in a balanced orientation -- physically and cognitively -- as you start stroking.
I daresay any attempt to replace dolphin with breast kick underwater on your back would succeed even more spectacularly at creating drag.

The most interesting question this raises for me is what has left you convinced you must add underwater propulsion to that provided by your pushoff?

Richardsk 11-17-2012 10:35 PM

My experiments with underwater inverted breaststroke kicking today were inconclusive but my impression is that my breaststroke kick is not greatly superior to my dolphin, if it is superior at all. On the surface I would be fairly sure that it is superior. Next time, perhaps tomorrow, I'll try not kicking at all, but really for a scientific test one would need someone with a stopwatch, which would perhaps be silly at the speed I swim at, whether under the water or on the surface.

The motivation for trying to add some propulsion to the underwater is the knowledge that in general one travels faster under the water than on top because of less wave drag. Of course what works for Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps might not work as well for an old fart who has only recently discovered the underwater dolphin.

Diving deeper and holding streamline longer might well be just as effective, as you suggest.

Grant 11-18-2012 01:33 AM

[quote=terry;32380] Curiosity has replaced ego and self judgement.

I really like the above statement. As the years pile up, mine have reached the 77 year level, this statement is really relevant. With both of these it is critical that we are ruthlessly honest with ourselves when undertaking this transformation. I have found that just when I figure I have dealt my friend the ego a serious blow I begin to take an ego trip on that accomplishment.
Speaking of the self judgement aspect. I think it is an important distinction and does not include the act of measuring. We still can use the measurements in a non self judgement manner.
Each time we can observe ourselves doing the ego and or self judgement dances and can consciously replace them with curiosity the process gets easier and can be caught quickly.

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